Over the past few years Clairobscur Dance has moved to the forefront of major contemporary dance companies in Los Angeles and on Saturday, March 9, 2019 the company presented three works at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. Under the leadership of Artistic Director and Choreographer Laurie Sefton, the company looked strong and Sefton’s work continues to demonstrate how, in the hands of a strong choreographer, dance is an art form not simply entertainment. Sefton is a commentator of what she sees and feels in the world around her. Here, her work made bold statements about life and politics in an abstract manner, but its meaning was well-defined and commanding.
Supremacy Ride which premiered in 2018, was inspired by the effects of the 2016 presidential election results. Sefton drew upon our current POTUS’ hands, arms and facial gestures and then turned a mirror around for us to see how that choice has divided a nation. With a dynamic and mood changing music score by Gorecki, Sefton introduced each dancer and with what have become very familiar gestures, moved us from the humor of that familiarity into the realm of witnessing the damage and chaos of an administration’s desire for authoritarianism. Sefton points out the censorship that has begun to creep into lives, the hatred directed toward the free press and the targeted division of races.
Sefton accomplished this with beautiful and intricate movements designed to spark discussion and self-introspection. The dancers, who are well trained, were pushed to their physical limits and then left standing still in bewilderment. Ellen Akashi and Camila Arana stood out in Supremacy Ride as both strong technicians and commanding performers. Dominique McDougal’s loose-limbed control presented a strength to his dancing not seen before, and the other two very talented dancers in the cast were Sadie Black and Leah Hamel.
The very appropriate and beautifully tailored costumes (Stephanie Luckey) for Supremacy Ride were primarily bright blue, and perhaps designed to represent the populace. They allowed Sefton’s movement and purpose to be visible as well as clearly defined the performers’ physiques.
The second work on the program, which also premiered last year, was titled Triptych: Experience in Defiance. It featured Spoken Word written and performed by poet and rap artist Jason Chu, along with dancers Ellen Akashi, Camila Arana, and Thomas O’Neal. Chu hit us with rapid fire, one-word statements that, when strung together told a story of not only defiance, but of immigration, their hard work and achievements, and a sense of feeling invisible to whites. “Three – brothers – swim – 10 – miles – cramps – two – brothers – land – freedom.” was just a small example of Chu’s powerful rap style poetry. It was that occasionally directed towards us like machine gun fire, causing one to reflect on whether she/he possessed any repressed bigotries.
Chu moved about the stage with ease as well as a strong show of boldness. He interacted with an individual dancer and with all three. They visualized his words as well as reacted to their meaning. He was effortlessly lifted and carried by the trio, giving flight to his statements. Triptych: Experience in Defiance was another social mirror for the audience to stand in front of and reflect upon what they saw.
Sefton’s new work Imminent Drift had its world premiere at the Nate Holden, and for this reviewer, it has not yet found a clear through line. The program stated that Sefton “was motivated to draw close connections between Syrian refugees and her own Cuban/American heritage……”. The opening tableaux gave us a clear sense of family and there were several beautiful sections that strongly reflected a sense of migration, separation and/or the loss of homeland, aided by the reflective score by Bryan Curt Kostors and Victoria Vasta that included manipulated phrases from the US Constitution. These sections did shine a light on how our own freedoms are what people hope to find as they risk everything to relocate to the United States.
What made this work difficult for me was when the movement became unnecessarily complicated and/or busy. I found my mind wandering because it felt like Sefton was speaking a lot of words without presenting a clear message. The score, and the beautiful lighting by Dan Weingarten with his use of shadow and starlight, provided a wonderful sense of travel, time, despair and isolation, but the choreography drifted in and out of focus.
The word imminent means about to happen, pending, or forthcoming. Drift is defined as to be carried slowly by a current of air or water, and a continuous slow movement from one place to another. Sefton never clearly stated what disruption caused these characters in Imminent Drift to leave their home behind or what they were traveling toward. They drifted, yes and at times she clearly created a powerful sense of pending tragedy. Where the confusion lay was when Sefton’s choice to display the dancers technical abilities got in the way of her narrative.
I am certain that Imminent Drift will mature and gel together over time and I faith in Sefton’s talent to step back, take a closer look at her work and turn it into as strong a work as the two previous ones on the program.
The dancers were definitely not their strongest in this work. They too need time to find their bearings and, for some, to stay in character during Sefton’s very intricate movement phrases. The cast included Ellen Akashi, Camila Arana, Lisa Ebeyer, Stephanie Hall, Leah Hamel, and Dominique McDougal.
For more information about Clairobscur Dance, click here.
For more information about the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, click here.
Featured image: Imminent Drift photo by Denise Leitner – Dancers: Camila Arana, Stephanie Hall, Leah Hamel, Ellen Akashi